Exercise Lowers the Risk for Genetically Pre-Dispositioned Heart Disease

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
May 18, 2018
Exercise Lowers Risk of Genetic Heart Disease

You inherited your mother’s height, your father’s eyes -- and your family’s risk for cardiovascular disease. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re stuck with a heart disease diagnosis.

You’re probably aware that eating healthy, controlling stress and avoiding tobacco can reduce your cardiovascular disease risk. But it seems exercise may be the golden ticket to heart disease prevention, regardless of your genetics, according to a new study published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation.

“The connection between exercise and heart disease is not new,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “However, this study is quite interesting because it suggests that exercise is more valuable than other preventive measures in lowering one’s risk for cardiovascular disease, even amongst those with a family history of heart conditions.”  

Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine evaluated almost 500,000 records from the UK Biobank database of men and women aged 40 to 69 without cardiovascular disease but with an intermediate level genetic risk for it. Additionally, researchers had participants complete the International Physical Activity Questionnaire and assessed their grip strength and cardiorespiratory fitness.  

After researchers adjusted the data for variables such as age, gender, body mass index, blood pressure, diabetes, smoking history, use of medications, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, they found participants who scored well on the grip strength and cardiorespiratory tests had a lower risk for coronary artery disease and atrial fibrillation than participants who scored poorly. 

“Although this study is observational and only shows a correlation, it’s a great launching pad to delve further into the value that grip strength and cardiovascular fitness may have in lowering your risk of certain genetic heart conditions,” Kaminetsky says. 

Grip strength testing is not commonly used in the medical community but is considered a standard screening in exercise testing, as it’s an indicator of overall strength. Over the past decade, researchers have linked signs of weakness in older adults such as a slow walking speed and a low muscle mass index with a shorter lifespan. And a low-scoring grip strength may be another sign of frailty and shorter lifespan.

Although previous studies have tied cardiorespiratory fitness with lowering the risk for coronary artery disease, genetics weren’t factored. Other studies from Northwestern Medicine back up the new study’s conclusion —that lifestyle has a bigger effect on cardiovascular health than genes.  

“The bottom line is that exercise is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle and of cardiovascular health,” says Kaminetsky. 

If you’re interested in starting or revamping your exercise program, work with your MDVIP-affiliated physician. MDVIP’s partnership with Perfect Fit provides doctors with a digital library of more than 1,000 exercises and workouts. Looking for a primary care physician? Physicians in MDVIP-affiliated practices can customize a wellness plan for you. Find an MDVIP affiliate near you and begin your partnership in health »

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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